November 2011


Sometimes I complain about our ‘hood, but the fact is that graffiti could be anywhere. It can be done by anyone from gangsters to rich kids. I think the difference between “good” and “bad” neighborhoods really comes down to how much people care. Do people care about their yards looking nice, or whether there are stray dogs and cats running around? Do they care about stuff that’s spray painted?

For months, I’ve “cared” about the mailbox on the corner and how crappy of a feeling I get when I turn onto our street. But passively cared, as in one time I think I googled graffiti removal services in my neighborhood and gave up after about 3 seconds. But this past weekend, by golly, I decided to actively care!

Of course now that I’ve already removed it, I find this link that looks super easy to use (if you live in my neighborhood, please use this!). I swear that was hiding from my previous google searches.

Anyhoo, I didn’t feel like waiting for anyone to come out anyway, so the link I found was this one from the Minneapolis Police Dept that had lots of good info on DIY graffiti removal. (Minneapolis- what a great city!)

There are a lot of options, so I headed down to the mailbox with a rag and an armful of supplies. These are the ones I trudged down with:

  • Orange degreaser (I think Zep brand)
  • Simple Green
  • Mineral spirits
  • Lacquer thinner
  • Paint thinner (which I’m pretty sure is just mineral spirits)
  • Goof-Off (says right on the label it can remove graffiti)

I’m just sad I didn’t get a picture, because I looked pretty ridiculous. Here’s a closer shot of the “artwork”:

Since the earth and I are friends, I started out with what I guessed was the least harsh of the chemicals: the orange degreaser and the Simple Green. Surprisingly, the orange degreaser took the paint marker (the yellow in the picture) right off. Simple Green would have done it too, but with much more scrubbing. Seriously, it wiped right off. Made me wonder why I waited so long!

But for the actual spray paint I had to pull out the big guns, and I finally determined that lacquer thinner is the only way to go. (Since that worked and I hadn’t opened the Goof-Off, I decided to save $4 and return it.) Surprisingly, it didn’t even remove the powder coating underneath. For some reason, some of the paint was more stubborn than others. The black stuff on the left wiped right off, but most of the stuff on the right had to be scrubbed with a Scotch Brite pad and lots of elbow grease, and copious amounts of lacquer thinner (wear gloves). There were a few parts that just would not come off, but in the end I decided that the result was satisfactory.

While I was at it, I even trimmed that bushy tree thing trying to grow. I debated digging up the grass and mulching it, but decided that the grass/weed mixture already looked 10x better than it had, so I saved my mulch.

While I’m glad to have found the SLC graffiti removal service, I think I’m going to make this particular mailbox my own special project. It’s been three days, and so far so good. They say the best thing to deter graffiti “artists” (sorry kid, but you’re not Banksy) is to remove it as soon as humanly possible, so that’s exactly what I intend to do. I will sit there like Walt Kowalski (minus the guns and racial slurs).

Oh and if you’re here to comment and tell me that I should have asked for permission before improving public property, you can go ahead and take your comments elsewhere. I had enough rude comments on my post about the dang fence, and if my act of public service offends you, you can find another blog to terrorize.

If you drive by ugly graffiti regularly and are hoping someone will come take care of it, I encourage you to channel Gandhi and “be the change you wish to see in the world”! Find a service in your area, or just head out there yourself! People will roll down their windows to thank you, and you will feel really superior/good about yourself.

Now, spill it: Does anyone else live in a ‘hood where this kind of thing is common? Or do bloggers usually only live in classier neighborhoods? Any more helpful/constructive tips on DIY graffiti removal?

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White balance is a big deal in the world of photography. It’s a tricky little bugger. If you’ve never given a thought to photography besides pushing the shutter button down and then uploading your photos to facebook, you probably don’t know a lot about white balance. But you’ve definitely seen when it’s off. You know how most photos you take indoors at night (you know, those especially incriminating facebook photos) have a yellow glow? That’s because the white balance is off. For most settings, the camera actually takes a pretty darn good photo on Auto. From what I’ve experienced so far, Auto White Balance (AWB) is the only thing that the camera can’t seem to figure out when you’re indoors under a mix of lights.

This was taken of my subject with AWB as he dutifully works on completing his thesis:

Here it is with the Tungsten white balance setting:

And here it is with my custom white balance setting:

While he does look less jaundiced here, the custom white balance didn’t quite do the trick of capturing how he truly looked sitting there. He was somewhere between the second and third photos. He did look a little yellow, because he’s sitting under a bunch of incandescent lights (shh… don’t tell the green police- they’re the only ones we could find to fit the chandelier!).

Mr. Smartypants himself had a look, and after I complained that my custom white balance overcompensated and made him look a little blue, he pointed out the fact that his face was also being lit by the computer screen, which is a much different color of light than an incandescent bulb.

So the takeaway message is that white balance is tricky, especially when multiple light sources are involved. Honestly I will probably only worry about it when trying to take indoor nighttime photos, since in most other situations AWB seems to do a pretty good job.

Any white balance tips?

This might be the dweebiest thing I’ve done yet, but I made a video of me paying off my last non-mortgage debt.

Sorry about all the gum-chewing and smacking! Eww! Also apparently I’m a slow-talker? Skip ahead to 1:20 to see the “moment of truth”.

I was inspired by Kate to make this video, because she made one when she paid off her car loan.

Debt is an important thing to think about, yet it can be one of the hardest things to face. It’s easy to make the minimum (or close to the minimum) payment and tell yourself it’s fine, it’s just part of life. But it doesn’t have to be a part of life forever! I encourage you to read Total Money Makeover by Dave Ramsey, or Millionaire Next Door, or Rich Dad Poor Dad, or some other book that tells you that you can be different. You don’t have to keep making minimum payments on your debts so that you have more cash on-hand to keep up with the Joneses. One of my favorite Dave sayings that my friends are tired of hearing is, “Don’t keep up with the Joneses; they’re broke!”

Of course everyone’s situation is different, and it’s a good idea to have some cash on-hand for emergencies (otherwise when something goes wrong- and it will- you’ll just end up further in debt) but I think we need to ask ourselves why we’re holding on to our debts. Is it really because we have no other option? Or is it because we’d rather spend that extra money (either monthly or one-time) on something else?

I completely understand that the economy is bad, and a lot of people are unemployed or underemployed and paying off debts quickly is simply not an option right now. I really do get that.

But I’m talking to people who start to do alright for themselves and still hold on to debts because they just can’t quite pull the trigger and release that money from their bank accounts (guilty), or they justify it because the interest rate is low (guilty) or they want to continue to go out to restaurants (guilty) and generally live the life that an employed twentysomething is “supposed” to live (guilty).

But I’m not the expert. Check out Dave’s seven baby steps, because he has an excellent plan for getting out of debt and living an awesome life. (He encourages people to “live like no one else, so that later you can live like no one else.)  And no, Dave is not paying me to rave about him so much. We’re just really good friends now!